In the story "The Lottery" what are the rules when someone can't attend the lottery?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Mr. Summers gets ready to start the first drawing he asks:

Anybody ain't here?"

"Dunbar." several people said. "Dunbar. Dunbar."

Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar." he said. "That's right. He's broke his leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for him?"

Everybody knows everybody and everything about everybody in this small town. Clyde Dunbar's absence shows that everybody has to participate in the lottery and that somebody must draw for anybody who is unable to attend. We do not know what would have happened if Dunbar's wife had drawn the black spot for her husband. No doubt the entire village would have had to go out to his house and stone him to death while he was lying in bed or sitting on his front porch.

This is a strongly patriarchal society. That is a dominant theme through Shirley Jackson's story. Mr. Summers doesn't even like the idea of having Mrs. Dunbar participate in the first round. He asks:

"Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?"

"Horace's not but sixteen vet." Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year." 

The men run the whole show. When poor Tessie Hutchinson is finally selected as this year's victim, or scapegoat, it is two men, Steve Adams and Old Man Warner, who take the lead in urging the others to stone her to death. There is a feeling in this story that if the women in the town weren't so subservient to the men, they would insist on putting an end to this senseless lottery. When the Hutchinson household is selected in the first round, a young girl in the crowd whispers:

"I hope it's not Nancy," and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.

She whispers because she is afraid to speak up. This is the only indication of any human sympathy for anybody. When Tessie is selected to be stoned, her husband and children turn against her, along with everybody else in the group of about three hundred people. If the lottery is ever discontinued, it will be because the women get together and insist upon it. Human feelings will prevail over male tradition, male authority, and blind superstition.